The Monuments Men is an Entertaining, Skilled Throwback
- Friday, February 07, 2014
Release Date: February 7, 2014
Rating: PG-13 (for images of war violence, language, and historical smoking)
Run Time: 118 min
Directors: George Clooney
Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban, Dimitri Leonidas
At a time when historical war films are interpreted through a modern, kinetic lens, it's nice to see one come along that's been made like they used to – especially when it's set during World War II, precisely when they made them like they used to. That old-fashioned spirit brings style and charm to The Monuments Men, a highly entertaining and skilled throwback to another time (albeit with a PG-13 rating). It's a movie that feels like something right out of Hollywood's Golden Age.
Based on the true story of FDR's team of international soldiers and art experts, The Monuments Men is a dramatized account of the Allied efforts to rescue works of art – paintings, sculptures and the like from collections both public and private – throughout Europe. Their task was three-fold: find artworks before they're stolen by the Nazis, seize them from mines where Hitler had them stockpiled, or simply save them before they were bombed into oblivion along with so many cities across the continent. The stakes were no less than this: they sought to save Western culture and history.
Just as President Roosevelt assembled a multinational Who's Who battalion for the effort, so too does George Clooney (Oscar-winning producer of Argo) assemble an all-star cast like the old war movies he’s emulating. With an ensemble made up of leading men, Oscar winners, nominees, and beloved character actors, the multi-hyphenate filmmaker Clooney – who once again serves as star, producer, and co-writer of a film he also directs – marshals together the right mix of talent that creates a wonderful sense of camaraderie.
The plot follows a tried-and-true genre structure as Frank Stokes (Clooney) lays out the case before President Roosevelt, then assembles his team one-by-one, and ultimately sends them off in pairs across Europe to embark on their various missions (while occasionally regrouping as events evolve). In doing so, the film pulls more from classics like The Dirty Dozen and The Bridge on the River Kwai than it does, say, full combat movies like The Longest Day, often with the jaunty disposition of The Great Escape. Clooney also makes subtle references to more recent fare like Saving Private Ryan through moments of combat crossfire, or following the wake of D-Day.
The aforementioned pairings of the characters are comically odd by design. They allow for banter and levity that can turn on a dramatic dime when dangers arise. From John Goodman and Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin (reteaming from their Best Picture collaboration The Artist), to Bill Murray and Bob Balaban (another reteaming, from Moonrise Kingdom), to Clooney's aging leader Stokes with the team’s youngest member, a Jew named Sam Epstein (newcomer Dimitri Leonidas), the chemistry of the cast enables us to remain engaged and entertained as the story leisurely jumps from one mission to the next.
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